Learning, Singing, Laughing, and… Crawling:
Joining Lyric Theatre Studio as a Vocal Performance Major
Entering my junior year as a vocal performance major, I wanted to bring more improvisation, movement, and musical theater repertoire into my craft. After a long chat with my voice teacher, I decided to give the lyric theater studio a try! Meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3 to 5, the studio encourages lyric theatre majors, as well as vocal performance and choral music ed majors to join! Led by professors Sarah Wigley and Michael Tilley, this studio has been nothing but warm, welcoming, and FUN!
As my freshman year nears its end, it has been and is a very busy time, with lots of end of the year activities! With all of the performance opportunities recently, it’s felt more and more like things are returning to normal. Within a two week span, there have been three major performances, with the last one 48 hours. Here’s the rundown.
The Senior Recital is the ultimate culmination of the Bachelor of Music degree. This is an hour-long program, and the solo performer takes the stage for its entirety. I gave a Junior Recital last year, and this was a 30-minute performance in the Smith Memorial Room. I was very excited to present an hour-long program, as I knew this would give me space to tell many stories and present different musical styles.
As a current vocalist and former cellist, I don’t get the chance to dive into the realms of cello playing like I used to. Luckily enough, I was told about the Illini Student Musicals production of Little Women needing a cellist for their pit orchestra. I couldn’t turn down such an opportunity as it allows me to perform the cello again. Prior to this experience, I have never performed in a pit orchestra because I was always more involved in the acting aspect of the show. I always knew and have been told that pit orchestra is way different than a regular orchestra, but I never really quite understood until we started to practice.
My dress rehearsal for my undergraduate junior recital is coming up, and I’ve been preparing myself to make the best use of the time that I will have onstage before the night of the performance. Here are some quick tips and helpful things I’ve been thinking about regarding this part of the recital process:
I have written in previous blog posts about one of my main projects this semester: an in-person presentation of Samuel Barber’s often-neglected opera, Vanessa, with the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra. This past week brought the culmination of this tremendously fulfilling project. The event was quite momentous, as it was our school’s first in-person performance featuring vocals to have a limited live audience since the pandemic.
Walking into graduate school on day one can seem freeing, and in other ways overwhelming. Finally, you have the practice time you have long desired. Finally, there are no advisors and professors telling you exactly what you should be doing all of the time. Finally, you are given most of the deciding power in what kind of music you want to play, and what you want to say through your music. However, with this newfound sense of freedom, most new graduate students can feel lost, confused, overwhelmed, or unmotivated once they are left to do things on their own. Believe me, I have been there, and I still struggle with these same feelings. It is my hope that some of my successes and failures can come to guide new graduate students in “choosing their own adventure” that will set them up for a sustainable and enjoyable career in the arts. Here are some things to think about that may help to enlighten your path as a new graduate student:
Last week, I sat in on the first orchestra rehearsal for Lyric Theatre @ Illinois’ and University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra’s concert presentation of excerpts from Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. I could not wait to begin working on the music with the talented chamber orchestra, and today, I had the opportunity to do so! This was quite a big deal for me because it was the first time I had sung solo in the Foellinger Great Hall unamplified (one of my greatest Illinois memories was singing the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance in November 2018, but that performance utilized microphones). The acoustics of the Foellinger Great Hall are renowned, and some of the world’s greatest singers, including many of my vocal idols, have enjoyed giving recitals on this stage. It felt amazing singing with an orchestra in this space which is so kind to singers and provides plentiful natural amplification.
Winter Break was extra long this year. For me, this meant more practice time, which I found to be, depending on a variety of factors on any given day, both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, more time to practice = more time to study the repertoire I was preparing for the annual Paul Rolland Violin Award Competition. On the other hand, more time to practice = more time playing the violin alone, without anyone to structure my day except me. While I do appreciate a slow, meditative practice session, I find it a difficult lifestyle to maintain without the routine expectations provided by a “normal” weekly schedule of playing in lessons, studios, and chamber groups, and orchestra rehearsals; all of which I am lucky to experience in-person this year. I think that’s why I felt all the more grateful at my first in-person orchestra rehearsal experience of the second semester.
Incredibly, the last time I was in the Krannert Center’s cavernous Foellinger Great Hall, one of the great treasures of our university, was March 2020, almost a year ago. The last day before the pandemic fully took hold, I was on that familiar stage performing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, “Babi Yar,” with the Men’s Glee Club, non-treble voices of Oratorio Society and Chamber Singers, soloist Ricardo Herrera, and the University of Illinois Symphony Orchestra led by Donald Schleicher. This was also the last time I performed with a large ensemble for a large audience, and even the last time I have been in a room with that many people for any purpose. This performance took on particular weight when we found that we would not perform the piece at Carnegie Hall and that this would be our last chance to communicate Shoshtakovich’s fiercely relevant political message. The performance was life-affirming in every sense, and its memory still thrills when I think about its eternal temporal place on the edge of a pre-pandemic era.